Three recruits join new sociology department

Noa Yadidi | Staff Reporter

Three newly recruited professors will teach three classes offered in the new sociology department next semester.

Jake Rosenfeld, currently an associate professor of sociology at the University of Washington, will teach Sociology of Race and Ethnicity; David Cunningham, current professor and chair of sociology at Brandeis University, will teach Order and Change in Society; and Adia Harvey Wingfield, a current associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, will teach Social Theory.

The classes are all being offered through the department of sociology, which is re-emerging after being shut down in 1991.

“It was clear that there was a hole in our social science curriculum,” Department of Sociology Chair Steve Fazzari said. “Sociology is a major social science discipline. I think you would find that the vast majority, if not all, major universities have a sociology department.”

According to Fazzari, the department hopes to add two new faculty members each year for the next five years, leaving the department at a reasonable size with room to grow.

“There is a commitment to doing this so that people who are recruited in the early stages can be confident that they will be in a full-blown department as we go forward,” Fazzari said.

Since the early 2000s, there has been an interest in bringing back the sociology department, and Dean of Faculty of Arts & Sciences Barbara Schaal took the lead in creating and implementing this plan.

Schaal asked Fazzari to take the department chair position in early February 2014, though he is trained as an economist.

“I had a lot of the background that Dean Schaal was looking for. Plus, I had an intellectual interest and synergy with the discipline of sociology,” he said.

After Fazzari accepted the position, Schaal put together a faculty search committee, comprised of around 12 faculty members led by Fazzari and professor of psychology Roddy Roediger.

At the same time, the University asked a distinguished group of sociologists from around the country to act as an external advisory committee. Fazzari began meeting with the group, chaired by Princeton sociology professor Doug Massey, in May 2014. The group helped recommend individuals to the search committee.

The department focused only on looking for tenured professors, which limited the field, Fazzari said, but in total it had between 80 and 90 applicants. The top six were brought to campus for interviews and three were offered positions.

“We got, in a way, a stronger start than we might have hoped for. We probably all would have thought if we got at least one person we would have been successful. Two was kind of the target, so to get three is really terrific,” Fazzari said.

The courses Cunningham and Wingfield will be teaching are variations of courses they have taught before at other universities while Rosenfeld’s class is new for him. He is, however, teaching something he is interested in.

“Of course, the idea of teaching race and ethnicity at Washington University and in this environment is something that we thought was really highly valued,” Fazzari said.

The department is looking to create a major as soon as possible but will not have one available next year. Its leaders will be talking extensively about the curriculum next year and hope to set a target for when the major will be available. The department will likely also offer a minor and will include its own Ph.D. program.

While the department could have enough classes to sustain a major next year by cross-listing classes in other departments, Fazzari said they are more interested in developing a more focused sociological major.

“We don’t want to just have a cobbled-together program,” Fazzari said. “In other words, it should be a strong major that really covers the basics of sociology with the kind of full set of elective courses, upper-level courses—things along those lines.”

The addition of three faculty members in the first wave of recruitment, as opposed to the anticipated two, will help ensure the major will be offered sooner rather than later, Fazzari said.

Cunningham said he was excited about joining Washington University and helping create the new department.

“[Washington University] was the sort of school that I really had just admired from afar, and the fact that they both didn’t have a sociology program for the last couple of decades and were starting one now was just one of those things that seems a really interesting opportunity,” he said. “It certainly is the sort of place where you could build something that could be quite interesting and ideally an exciting and compelling kind of space on campus and beyond.”

In anticipation of the next round of faculty additions, the department is starting to begin thinking about the curriculum it will offer and the next stage of recruiting.

“These are very interesting, cooperative people who are deeply dedicated to this process of building a new department, so it’s going to be an interesting process,” Fazzari said.